First Due

by mobrian on October 17, 2008

The alarm goes off for a reported structure fire and your engine will be the first unit in.  You, the engineer, and a fire fighter don your turnout gear and quickly get in the rig (known as big red).  As the officer you do a quick check to make sure seat belts are on, you tell dispatch “Engine 32 responding” as you slowly make your way out of the bay.  Dispatch acknowledges and advises you they have received many calls on this incident and appears to be a working fire.

The engineer states she knows the route, but you pull up the map on your computer and look to find the closest hydrant.  Enroute you bark out orders to the crew as your fire fighter prepares his SCBA and ensures his gear is ready.  The second and third due engine, chief, and a mutual aid ladder truck call dispatch to advise they are responding.

As you enter the subdivision you notice the tell tale sign of windmills (people waving their arms) and you advise your fire fighter to hook the hydrant and the engineer to lay in at the hydrant 4 houses before the working fire.  You make the last turn and can see the brown and gray smoke covering the street, there’s the hydrant and you give your radio report to dispatch “Engine 32 arrival on Smith Street, we have a working fire located on the second floor of a 2 story colonial house, the fire appears to be venting through the A side, second floor, engine 32 is catching a hydrant and passing command”

As the first arriving boss on this working fire what is your role and responsibility for a successful fire fight?  What can you do to ensure the safety of your crew and responding units?

Lets start with the radio size up and the brief initial report.  As the officer you need to clearly communicate the incident so next arriving units can be prepared for the fire.  The boss should communicate clearly and effectively.  Some common pitfalls can include talking to loud, fast, or even too much information.  The size up should include:

  • Unit and street
  • Type of structure
  • Fire Location
  • What you are doing about command (assuming, passing, tactical)
  • Order any additional units
  • If any special radio channel instructions or requests

As you arrive you and the crew must begin a size up of the structure.  These are many times run through your head and depending on your role will vary.  For instance the company officer may evaluate:

  • Start with the basics, is everyone out of the structure?
  • Do I have two in two out?
  • What is the fire doing?
  • Where is the fire going?
  • Did I do a 360 of the structure?
  • Do I have enough units?
  • How should we attack this fire?
  • Ventilation
  • Exposures
  • How long is this fire burning?

The engineer’s role would be slightly different although can be a great aid to the company officer.  This would include securing a water supply, donning an SCBA (as part of two out), monitoring radio traffic, and getting water to the line.

The fire fighter will be looking towards what type of line may be needed, what is the layout of the building, where are my secondary egresses, will I need to force entry, do I have two out, where is my backup, is everyone out, and so on?

As this is going on, the first arriving unit should give a second report to dispatch on the fire and what will be needed.  This could sound like “Central engine 32 . . . The fire is extending into the attic on the second floor, we have been advised that all occupants are out of the building, and we will need a second alarm”

A third radio communication could take place to the next due engine for their responsibility (back-up line, attack, ventilation, rescue, etc).  Your ability to mange this incident will change as you training and respond to more working fires.

Solid training in basic skill sets will ensure everyone’s ability to look beyond small tasks.  For instance, if your fire fighter is not comfortable in the use of their SCBA, they may be too focused on the air pack when they should be looking at the structure and evaluated the fire conditions.  Having standardized apparatus assignments, adequate resources dispatched to the fire, and riding positions will help ease the management of the first five minutes of the fire event.

What do you find helps make the first arriving unit successful at a fire?

About the Author;  Michael O’Brian is the creator of and Inspector911.

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